US navy drone and high-tech black box detector to boost search for MH370

The United States has sent an undersea navy drone and a high-tech black box detector to boost search efforts for Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 in the southern Indian Ocean.

Reuters reported that the black box detector will be fitted to an Australian Defence vessel due in Perth, Australia, in the coming days.

The so-called black boxes, the cockpit voice recorder and flight data recorder, record what happens during flight. But, time is running out to pick up locator beacons that stop about a month after a crash due to limited battery life.

Malaysia said on Tuesday that the US "Towed Pinger Locator" would not arrive in the search area until April 5, which would give it only a few days to find the black boxes before the beacon battery would be expected to run out.

At the Pentagon, the US and British defence chiefs acknowledged the incident remained a mystery, reported Reuters.

"On the terrorism question, I don't think at this point we can rule anything in or out. I think we have to continue to search," said US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel.

"Unless and until we recover the cockpit voice recorder, we will not know for certain," said British Defence Secretary Philip Hammond.

FBI Director James Comey said at a Washington hearing yesterday that he expected his agency to finish an investigation of computer files related to the flight in the next day or two. He did not say what results he expected.

The prolonged and so far fruitless search and investigation have taken a toll, with dozens of distraught relatives of Chinese passengers clashing with police in Beijing on Tuesday, accusing Malaysia of "delays and deception".

The Reuters report said Malaysia's confused initial response to the plane's disappearance and a perception of poor communications have enraged many relatives of the more than 150 passengers from China and have strained ties between Beijing and Kuala Lumpur.

Chinese special envoy Zhang Yesui met with Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak yesterday and called for "unremitting efforts" to find the plane, Xinhua said.

A dozen aircraft from Australia, the United States, New Zealand, China, Japan and South Korea were once more scouring the seas some 2,500km southwest of Perth in the hunt for wreckage yesterday, after bad weather the previous day forced the suspension of the search.

"The crash zone is as close to nowhere as it's possible to be but it's closer to Australia than anywhere else," Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said, before leading the country's parliament in a moment's silence.

"A considerable amount of debris has been sighted in the area where the flight was last recorded. Bad weather and inaccessibility have so far prevented any of it from being recovered. But we are confident that it will be."

New satellite images provided by Airbus Defence and Space have shown 122 potential objects in the southern Indian Ocean where search efforts for the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 are now being focussed, acting Transport Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein said yesterday.

"The new images were received from France and taken on March 23," he told reporters at the Putra World Trade Centre.

"We have now had four separate satellite leads, from Australia, China and France, showing possible debris," Hishammuddin said. "It is now imperative that we link the debris to MH370."

The latest images were captured by France-based Airbus Defence & Space on Monday and showed 122 potential objects in a 400-sq-km area of ocean, Hishammuddin said. The objects varied in size from one metre to 23 metres in length.

Good weather yesterday was unlikely to last, in an area renowned among mariners for high winds and big waves.

"This is only going to be a narrow window of opportunity by the looks of things, because another weather system is moving in for Thursday (today), which looks like that will bring an increase in winds again and also lead to a reduction in visibility through the rain associated with the cold front," Neil Bennett, a spokesman for Australia's Bureau of Meteorology, said yesterday.

On Monday night, Najib had announced that flight MH370 had crashed in the southern Indian Ocean.

Citing satellite-data analysis by British company Inmarsat, he said there was no doubt the Boeing 777 came down in one of the most remote places on Earth.

Investigators are hoping that recovery of wreckage could unlock clues about why and how the plane had diverted so far off course in one of aviation's most puzzling mysteries. Theories range from a hijacking to sabotage but investigators have not ruled out technical problems.

Australia, China and France have all released satellite images over the past week showing possible debris in the same general area as the latest sighting, but no confirmed wreckage has been located. – Reuters, March 27, 2014.